The epicenter of interesting municipal happenings once more occurred in Scottville in another summer road trip by this reporter from the Ludington City Hall to the Scottville City Hall for their respective council/clowncil meetings. The last meeting in Scottville featured the Scottville Optimists and DDA criticizing city leadership, along with a bombshell announcement from Commissioner Yeomans that suggested the police chief was ousted.
Subsequent releases by Scottville leadership indicate that Chief Matt Murphy was back on the beat, but one wonders at what capacity from the city with lots of opacity. A FOIA request after the meeting asking for a copy of Yeomans' letter he had in his hand was denied on the basis it did not exist, and while Murphy attended this meeting, he was dressed in civilian clothes rather than the usual duty issue which were wore by Officer Katrina Skinner in attendance.
Under fire, Scottville City Manager Jimmy Newkirk
Before getting to the meat of that meeting, however, there was Ludington's turn at 6 PM. A modest agenda packet led to mostly modest discussions of modest actions, likely because City Manager Mitch Foster already excused himself from this affair at the last meeting (Scottville City Manager Newkirk might have been well-advised to do the same). The mayor added an item to appoint Jennifer Cleaver, an attorney, to the DDA.
The council would approve a engineering proposal for the 'E' Dock at the city marina, the third dock set for replacement by new floating docks and had first presentation of a three-year contract with WWTP sludge haulers (Biotech Agronomics). A letter of understanding with the police union was made for using cadets to address shortages of fully-trained police.
One of the three points of interest in this meeting was the council's impromptu motion in support of implementing a gun buyback program in Ludington, provided those running the program can get outside funding. Gun violence in Ludington is non-existent; if one 'Googles' news of Ludington Shooting you get basically three types of shooting in the first ten pages of results: basketball recaps, the proposed deer cull, and a recent beach incident where Orbeez guns (basically glorified squirt guns) were used.
Guns are only an issue in Ludington because some Second Amendment deniers are trying to grab guns from good people, and some of those gun-grabbers and others are wanting to raid our public funds to bring people into town to shoot guns at deer. Fourth Ward Councilor Cheri Stibitz understood the madness of it all and voted against the motion after stridently defending her position, the rest of the council voted for it. In the discussion leading up to the vote, county commissioners were noted to be 6-1 the other way.
Annette Quillan raised an issue about excessive noise and how the city code doesn't seem to address the issue too well. She mentioned that a newly refurbished restaurant/bowling alley was blaring their music quite loud and ruining the quiet enjoyment of their neighbors, having experienced this herself during a visit to a nearby friend's. It is a good point, particularly since many summer activities in Ludington can become quite loud, but many of them are directly sponsored by the City, DDA, and local chamber-- so look for those exemptions if this is ever looked into.
The only other commenter tonight was myself and I addressed three things, including a proposed traffic control order they would consider, while being unable to resist some alliteration:
XLFD: "This council should be aware that attorneys Tracy and Laura Thompson agree with my assessment made in my recap of the meeting where you earmarked over $50,000 of ARPA funds for a deer cull. There is some latitude with how those funds are spent as indicated in that act, but it never envisions that a city will spend their share on three years of bloodthirsty biologists baiting and blasting Bambi's bloodline. If you don't reallocate those funds to do something useful and ARPA-appropriate, your scheduled misuse of the funds will be reported to federal authorities.
I've noticed in the committee notes and the memos to this council that the proposed traffic control order on the south side of 100 east Melendy Street has been pursued and endorsed by the owners of the brewery who are on the north side of the street. There is nothing in the record showing that the two property owners on the south side who will have their curbside parking spots seized by this order have been advised of the city's action.
A large sign on the southeast corner indicates that the lot owner wants to develop it as a food truck site. The order will negatively affect their property's value by robbing them of premium parking spots. Councilor Johnson has noted that car wash owner Joe Oquist will likely not be happy with losing his curbside parking rights. These people deserve to have their voices heard before this taking of their curbside parking rights fully orchestrated by the brewery.
Lastly, let me congratulate Chief Kozal for being one of two finalists for the fire/police chief spot in Muskegon. He said on TV that "I've always done everything with ethics and integrity." Frankly, I was reminded last week why that statement is false. In a two-day jury trial that I attended, Officer Austin Morris, who clearly perjured himself on a warrant affidavit in his capacity as a school resource officer to incriminate the father of a student, initiated an arrest on the defendant in the case without articulating any reason for the arrest.
The Fourth Amendment and Michigan law assures people the right to know what they are being arrested for. When Officer Morris finally gave him a reason after 70 seconds of assaulting the man with his partner, the reason had no basis since the arrest was on private property. An ethical man with integrity would admit the mistake and discontinue prosecuting that mistake, they would also take corrective action when a school resource officer perjures himself and initiates illegal arrests. [END comment]
The Thompson's letter is in the packet, and I will contact appropriate authorities if the cull money isn't earmarked for something else by the end of the next meeting. In the TCO discussion, officials keyed into the fact that they have no duty to alert homeowners or business owners of changes to their curbside parking. While that is true, it is common courtesy and the traffic engineer recommending the TCO (Police Chief Kozal) is supposed to be able to present traffic studies in support of removing multiple downtown parking spots that offer better rationale than poor-driving brewery truck drivers have problems getting into a recently planned development's loading dock. Wasn't an issue back when that area had a grocery store there (Lyon's).
Lastly, I had to bust the police chief's chops for continuing to allow his officers to ignore training and department policies in their arrests, this isn't responsible chiefing on his part and it will only lead to more innocent people arrested and federal lawsuits. I am encouraging Lilleberg to consider hiring an aggressive attorney and going after those who were aggressive on him.
Councilor Stibitz asked me before the meeting whether I would be skipping out and going down to Scottville this evening. I had considered it, but I planned on staying put. She told me it would be a very interesting time, hinting at some fireworks happening towards the end of the meeting. Since Ludington's was only a 40-minute meeting, I figured I could still catch the end of the meeting which would be about half an hour in by the time I arrived.
Sure enough, obeying all the traffic rules, I walked in before 7 PM and the commission was still on the first item of business on the night's agenda which was whether the City would help the Scottville Fire Department replace its deteriorating wood fence, a project that would cost $4850. Three options were on the table in sharing these costs with the City; they decided to send it to the Finance Committee to review.
The commission then decided to create a request for proposals (RFP) for a DDA project manager/grant writer, all but saying that they would be on board with adding this full time officer if they get a qualified candidate. A road closure for US 10 using the old detours used back when the Harvest Festival crossed that road was approved for its new incarnation, the Scottville Fall Celebration, on September 16 and 17.
In the last items of business, they approved the lowest of three bidders for dead/nuisance tree removal, choosing Alpine which had City Manager Jimmy Newkirk's recommendation from the work they did the prior year in cleaning up the stumps. They then approved the closure of city hall on August 19th for business since they had HVAC work to be done that day which would interrupt office work.
That left public comment and comments from commissioners, which I was practically guaranteed would be worth the price of admission to this free forum. The first comment came from resident Chris Boardman which was interesting yet sad. He had toured the Star Theater (aka Four Star Theater) just down the street. This 1910 structure could fit about 500 people and has a couple of apartments above it bringing in $1200 per month.
The 75-year-old was pitching an idea to have a non-profit agency come in and with some help from the City or other public agencies or grant providers fix the place up again so it could be utilized rather than be just a memory. The sad part is that once his three minutes was up, Mayor Pro Tem Rob Alway unceremoniously told him his time was up (Mayor Spencer was absent). As Boardman tried to wrap up his remaining point or two, he kept being interrupted and told his time was up. Boardman would leave the floor expressing annoyance about the rude reception by the City and chairman.
I thought of chiding the clowncil for their part in shutting down initiatives like Boardman's through sheer rudeness and arrogance, but I was there for the show. When nobody else commented, Commissioner Yeomans announced that he had a record from Cheri Stibitz that he wanted to distribute among officials. City Attorney Carlos Alvarado, likely expecting a FOIA request from me for the record, asked whether Yeomans was officially sharing it. Alvarado is under the mistaken belief that such communications do not fall under the FOIA as a "public record" even when it's read aloud. Fortunately, I was able to get my own copy after the meeting:
Not being privy as to what the nature of the power struggle between the chief and the city manager was and/or is, and as someone who has an active lawsuit against each acting in their official capacity, I can only verify that both have a shaky past in their respective careers. As if to emphasize Stibitz's letter, unheard by the public, Commissioner Ryan Graham showed that Yeomans and Stibitz were not alone in coming to the police chief's defense, while taking offense at heavy-handedness of the city manager:
It's good to see that Commissioner Graham is not only speaking out about the stains in city hall's laundry but was also transparent enough to share his words with me when I asked him for a copy after the meeting. With those two disclosures hanging heavy in the air, the city clowncil adjourned without further commentary. One had the impression that the power struggle in Scottville is real and continuing, and that schisms appear to be growing amongst the commissioners with some choosing one side or the other and others trying to keep out of it. It's gotten so pervasive even a city councilor from Ludington is taking sides.
Experience has shown me that villains are never so vile, and heroes are never so heroic as they may at first appear to be through their reputation and actions. True heroes, however, do not actively shut down NPOs providing goods, food, and services to poor people in the middle of a pandemic, they do not embezzle and permit embezzling by friends of public money when they control the distribution of that money, they do not engage in public extortion and destruction of evidence of a criminal act, nor do they throw out a member of the public, sitting quietly, from a public meeting.
I am more apt to believe that City Manager Newkirk fired the chief for a good cause from what I have experienced and heard from citizens. You will note that his defenders just happen to be other public officials, not all of those children, their parents, and the other good folks of Scottville he supposedly has helped in the past. When they wind up firing Newkirk, I hope they have the wisdom to change the Scottville City Charter through an election to eliminate the city manager position; it should be obvious by now that the clowncil and their politics is just too toxic to support one. Additionally, one could ask why a city of 1200 people needs a full-time city manager, treasurer, clerk, community development director, and police chief.
Public schools have figured out a lot of 'improvements' since your day, like biological boys can compete in girl sports (as can dozens of other newly discovered genders, when they're not dressed up and reading inclusive and explicit picture books to your kindergartener). Another is the school resource officer (SRO) which MCC Schools recently added with SPD Officer Steven Case. Neither makes much sense, the latter only serves to criminalize student behaviors (in the guise of disorderly conduct and resisting/opposing) that have traditionally been handled and corrected by councilors at school rather than by correction officers at jails.
Frankly, I would like to know how the family mentioned in the letter perceived Chief Murphy's intervention; I think it would be much different than Ms. Stibitz's view. Did you happen to notice that both letter-authors used loaded terms to describe Newkirk's character: a megalomaniac and a tyrant, respectively? I haven't seen those traits in the man, but I've seen them close-up and personal with Chief Murphy back when he helped usurp the position for himself by ousting the prior city manager, over and over again.
I'm just hoping that someday we will be allowed to know the truth about what happened between these two public officers, some kind of heated spat that may cost the citizens of Scottville a lot of money in the future, without the truth needing to be found eventually through court testimony or deposition.
I'm impressed with how you introduced the term "spitballin'" into Scottville politics. One doesn't have to be a megalomaniac to have the dual role of clowncilor and editor of the Mason Clown Depressed, you just need to be a conflicted individual who has the Orwellian socialistic view that the government and government-propaganda-spewing media working together is a great thing to have.
Clowncilor Alway has shown elements of megalomania and tyranny in my past dealings with him when he shut me out of public comment periods during Zoom meetings, sat idly by when I was thrown out of a meeting because his peers couldn't observe my First Amendment rights to hold a sign quoting city charter procedures, and then withheld a written statement, read into the record, criticizing me and others for speaking out against city corruption, in direct violation of the FOIA. How can you be a qualified member of the press when you violate the First Amendment so freely as an official?
Your observation on Graham is also very cogent; one wonders why he has remained so silent when the charter is thrown under the bus to silence the public from speaking before the meeting's business comes up for consideration, why he has allowed the $5000 donated specifically for playground equipment and the like to be used for other sundry things, etc. Ryan Graham was appointed by the clowncil and elected in Scottville's tainted 2020 election (where the city clerk effectively guaranteed incumbents would win by not doing her election duties), so maybe he is confused as to who he actually works for, his peers or his constituents.
Both letters conveniently dance around the issue of what actually happened to start this controversy and what Murphy's status will be. But it gives one a sliver of hope that when everything finally gets aired out over time, that maybe some good old housecleaning can take place where the corrupt can be made clean once again.
Chances are good that I might recycle this for the recap of a future city clowncil meeting.